How did you hear about Dancers of New York?
I saw you on Facebook on recommended page some time ago, and then I saw Jason Wise, who I danced with a lot over the summer, which reminded me. Then I emailed you.
Tell me a little bit about how you started dancing.
I started dancing really late, actually. I didn’t start dancing until I was 13 or 14. I was a musician first. I played classical harp for 13 years, starting when I was three. And then I got to be like 11 or 12 and got really sick of that and was over it. The school I just transferred to had opened up a new dance school, which at the time I didn’t realize what I was getting into. But it was a really small group of teachers and really small group of students. I am from Nashville; it was a bunch of people out of Nashville Ballet and a lot of other amazing companies that just started a school. So I got in on the ground floor and grew with them. Just hit it hard for the five or six years, and it just took over.
What made you decide to transition over to dance?
When I was doing the music thing, I started doing musicals, which is my main thing and what I am in school for. I had done a couple of those at school, which peaked my interest. I did a summer program, when I was like 13, here in New York called Destination Broadway with Mike Rafter, which was amazing, but just made me realize how much dance training I needed. I don’t know--I always liked it and took a ballet class and was just hooked. I was horrible. I was awful. I was the worst one there. But I never really had that kind of community aspect, especially with girls. I was always kind of a loner growing up. So being able to have that community of girls that I felt like had common interest and respected me was--once I got a taste of it, I didn’t want to stop.
What made you decide to do it full-time?
In high school, I was doing musicals left and right. I went through a lot of life transitions between about 16 and 18. I transferred schools; my parents got divorced late. By the time my parents got divorced, I started doing community theatre shows. I did A Chorus Line and Chicago and just found a lot of refuge in it. Just realized that it was the only thing that I could see myself doing for a living and also being happy. When I thought about it, I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. I thought about going to school for English or Marketing or something like that. But it was the only thing that made sense. And still is. Always.
What are you up to now?
I just finished my third year at NYU-Tisch School of the Arts. I am in their drama program in their musical theatre studio. I am getting a business minor, and I am a teacher for Pure Barre New York City. So I am a fitness teacher. That’s how I pay the bills. I just finished my third year. I am taking the summer off a little bit, which is going to be nice. I haven’t had a break in like four or five years. I am excited to chill and do creative things and get back in touch with that.
How has been your experience at NYU?
So different than anything else I’ve ever expected, but really amazing. Under drama, there are 12 different studios, and they are all different acting methodologies. 11 of them are straight acting and one of them is musical theatre. Each year we’ll have about 400-500 drama students and of that 500, about 50 of us are in musical theatre. And it dwindles down throughout the year. My degree is in drama. I came into it very much as a dancer. I sang, but I’ve never had a voice lesson in my life, and I’ve never had an acting lesson. So I didn’t expect the acting to be as intense as it is, and I also didn’t expect to like it as much as I do. It’s hands-down hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a hard program, as I think any BFA programs are. They’re not there to pat you on the head and tell you you did a great job. That’s not the gig. I’ve got some incredible teachers, so I’ve learned so much than I ever thought I would. I got one more year, which is terrifying.
I am in this program called the New Studio on Broadway. Like I said, there are twelve different divisions, and a lot of them are partnerships with outside acting studios around New York, like the Atlantic School or the Meisner Studio. The musical theatre one used to be CAP 21. But five years ago, CAP 21 broke off from Tisch, and Tisch started their own program, which is the New Studio. So we had our first graduating class last year, and then this year is our second graduating class. I am kind of in the inaugural classes, so I’ve been in it on the ground up, which has been interesting to see. Because stuff changes every year. There’s nothing that’s really set.
They’re very different from most musical theatre conservatory programs in that we do get a lot of dancing and acting and singing training, but the focus is really on acting even when you’re in ballet, the focus is on acting. Even in your vocal classes, it’s on acting. Their focus is also having teachers that are working or have worked recently. One of my main mentor is Michael McElroy, who was in Violet, Rent, The Wild Party. He had a Tony nomination for Big River. Our studio director is Kent Gash, who just flew out to San Francisco to do a show, and he’s directing Robert O'Hara's new play at the Public next semester. Lots of amazing, working dancers. They bring in people all the time, which is amazing. I think that’s the biggest benefit of going to school in New York: you’re in New York. I don’t care how great your training is. Learning the city is a lesson in itself. Be able to graduate already knowing the city and know people is such a gift.
What do you plan to do after college?
I mean, the dream is to do the Broadway thing. That’s the goal. I am actually a part-time student. I took more classes than I technically am supposed to every semester. The way NYU works is: like a regular conservatory, you do your drama, acting, dance stuff Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then you take your academics on Tuesday and Thursday so they make you do a full academic load as well. I knocked out all my academics early, so senior year I’ll just do the drama and dance training. I’ll have two days out of a week to go out and audition. If I book something, then my degree is done, so I could leave and still have my degree. Broadway. That’s the dream.
What’s your dream role / show?
Number one is Sally Bowles in Cabaret, which unfortunately, that just closed. But it’ll come back around for me. Then Velma Kelly in Chicago. Anything Kander and Ebb ever wrote. Anything they ever did. Anything Liza Minnelli was ever in. And I’d love to dance in Wicked. That’s so generic, but that would be so fun.
How was your experience moving from Nashville to New York City?
Very interesting--I think I have southern sensibilities, but I am not a Southerner--it’s just not really my personality, and it never has been. So I’ve always wanted to move to New York. Just chomping at the bit to do it. I moved up here when I was 18. I went home that summer, and I can’t go home three months at a time ever again. I’ve pretty much stayed up here since then. I go home for a couple weeks at a time for Christmas and summer. I do definitely miss southern manners and southern hospitality, but it makes me appreciate where I am from so much more. And I appreciate my family so much more, now that I live away from them, which makes me sad-- that it took me moving away to a different part of the country to realize that. But I love New York. I lived Downtown for two years, and I just moved up here a couple months ago on my own, which I love. My boyfriend lives in Brooklyn; he’s from Nashville. We dated a year in Tennessee, a year long distance when he was at a different school. Then he transferred to NYU and moved here last year. He’s in Brooklyn, so I do the Brooklyn thing sometimes too, which is fun. He’s at NYU for engineering, marketing, and business. Completely different. He comes to shows and is like, “You looked pretty,” which is sometimes what I needed to hear. Once he moved here, everything pretty much clicked into place. I’ve been so happy. I just love it so much. It’s the best. There’s so much going on. I feel like it fits my personality a lot better.
What’s your favorite part about the city?
I like how you can take a 10 minute train ride and feel like you’re in somewhere completely different. I lived downtown in the East Village, which is a whole other universe, and then I moved up here where it’s flowers, dogs, and old people. You can go to a museum; you can go to a bar; they’re like four blocks away. If you ever get bored of something, you can take a 10 minute walk and be somewhere completely different, which for someone who is anxiety-ridden as I am, that can be nice--to be able to have a change of pace quickly.
What’s your least favorite part?
It’s so expensive. I have the best job in the world, and I can barely pay my bills. It’s so expensive. Everyone tells you that, especially if you move here for school. I’ve been incredibly lucky that my dad and my grandmother have supported me through school. But because of that, they’ve also been like, “We’ve provided you these opportunities, so now it’s all you, girl,” which is as it should be. I am happy to do that. But everyone tells you it’s hard, and you don’t realize how hard it is until you’re doing it. But it’s a learning curve.
What do you do for your job?
I work for a company called Pure Barre. It’s like a barre-pilates-based workout. It’s the biggest barre franchise in the country. I started doing it in Tennessee when I was like 15. Just taking classes. I worked there for a year now. One of the owners of our studio is coincidently from Nashville and the other one is from North Carolina. It’s a really incredible group of girls. We have three locations, and we’re about to open up a fourth one on Upper East Side. There’s about 20 of us that teach the best clients in the world. It’s been very rewarding. I’ve gotten a lot of dance opportunities out of it. Everyone that works there is basically a dancer or an actress or a singer. I did a summer program at Broadway Dance Center, which I got from one of my colleagues. It’s just been an incredible community. Girls who have been on TV and on Broadway are really amazing touchstones when I am feeling confused on insecure. It’s a wonderful community. I had a situation where someone I was working with made a really horrible comment about my weight. I was upset about it, and I went to one of my co-workers who I really respected--she’s dancing on TV and done all these amazing stuff--and was able to sit down and have a conversation with her. I think that’s the hardest thing when you move up here to do this--trying to find touchstones and people that can keep you focused, and not being pulled away, because everyone is going to have an opinion and everyone is going to think there’s something wrong with you. Some of them may be right, and some of them may be wrong. So it’s important to have people who know you for who you are and can be like, “This is what they’re saying, but this is who you really are.”
Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about coming up here to pursue a career in musical theatre?
Do not let it be your entire life. It can’t be. The times when I get the most self-conscious, or anxious, or depressed about it are when I let it completely consume me--when all I eat, live, and breathe is musical theatre and dance. You can’t. The truth of it is: if I broke my leg tomorrow, my career would be over. It would. It’s a career that is completely dependent on the health of your body. I see this all the time. I am the most type-A, control-freak person in the world, and I think it is the grand move of fate that the thing I’ve chosen to do is something I have no control over whatsoever. None. I’ve been able to dictate pretty much how my life has gone, but I can’t dictate how this goes. I can work as hard as I can, but it’s up to fate. You have to have other things: cultivate relationships, cultivate outside hobbies, even if it’s something like you like to cook. Go cook. Every now and then, don’t go to dance class. Go cook. Be a person. I think that’s the most important thing that I’ve learned, especially in the last year. That’s been something that I figured out, even the last six months. I think the basis of that is that you can’t dictate what you do off of what everyone else around you in your program, in your school, or in your show is doing. You can’t. If you play the comparison game, you will explode. That’s easy for me to say because I don’t do it sometimes. I let it get the best of me, but that’s the biggest thing I am working on right now: letting my path be mine. It’s okay if it’s not the same as someone else’s.
What do you do when you are frustrated?
First thing I do is try to step away from it. I will get dinner with my boyfriend and talk about anything but that. Or I will go for a walk. Or go to work and take a Pure Barre class. Then I make myself go see a show. I think I’ve seen Chicago eight times now. I’ve seen Wicked at least a dozen. I just have to go see a show that I know I love that reminds me why I am doing it.
Especially musical theatre, when you come in, you have no technique whatsoever. I love belting the song; I feel great when I sing it. I love dancing the dance; I feel great when I dance it. And then you spend enough years in school, and you can’t do anything without thinking everything you’re doing wrong and what technique you’re messing up--”What’s my objective, and what am I thinking, and what does my character want?” So every now and then, I go to a practice room, and let myself sing a song that I love and forget about all that. Just sing it for the sake of singing or dance it for the sake of dancing it. Because it’s really easy to lose the joy out of it. We’re not building a rocket. We’re doing shows. We’re doing something for the joy of doing it. You can’t lose that.
That’s funny. Eloise, one of the dancers featured, also said that it’s not rocket science.
It’s not. Especially when you’re in a program, it’s hard not to think sometimes of this giant thing I have to conquer. No. This is not world hunger; this is not global politics. We’re telling stories and having fun. If it doesn’t go well, who gives a shit? You know what I mean? People get very bogged down about it, including me.
Anything you’d like to share with the world?
Oh, Lord. Cast me? I am very much available for work [laughs]. I don’t know. For the first time in my life, I feel like I am ready to see what comes to me instead of so chomping at the bit--let me go find things, let me harass people, let me pound the pavement. I am in the mood for a break. Get in touch with why I am doing it, have conversations with people like you, take pictures, and go see shows. People who want to do fun, creative things, hit me up. I am ready. Let’s do it.